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In This Issue

March 9, 2012

NEWS

Global
• Helpful Guide to Harness the Potential of Bioenergy 
• Intl Women's Day: Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty 
• The Future of Plant Science – A Technology Perspective 
• A Mining Technology Adapted to Breed Nutritious Food Crops 

Africa
• African Development Bank Grants $63M to Multi-CGIAR Center Food and Agriculture Initiative 
• Cameroon Reaps Benefits of Investments in Agricultural Research for Development 

Americas
• Application for Environmental Release of GM Soybean in Canada 
• Expert Panel Offers Solutions to Weed Resistance Issues 
• WSU's On-Line Powdery Mildew Database 
• Changes in US Federal Register to Solicit Public Comments on GMOs 
• MU FAPRI Report: 2012 Corn Yields Lower Returns 

Asia and the Pacific
• CSIRO Brings Out the MAGIC for Wheat 
• Potato Expressing Human Pro-insulin gene produced 
• Hanoi Gear Up to High-Tech Agriculture 
• Bangladesh Experts Support Biotech Initiatives 

Europe
• Scanning Technology for Root and Soil Studies 
• Review on Genetic Transformation of Fruit Trees 

Research
• Field Assessment of Bt cry1Ah Corn on Honeybees 
• Clock Gene Helps Plants Prepare for Flowering Season 
• Scientists Discover Protein Controlling Strigolactone-dependent Symbiotic Signaling 

Beyond Crop Biotech
• Why Marijuana is Bad for Memory 
• Protein Interaction In HIV Treatment 
• Gorilla Genome Explains Evolution of Apes 

Announcements
• Hanoi to Host FAO Conference 
• MSU International Short Courses 

Document Reminders
• Technological Abundance for Global Agriculture: The Role of Biotechnology 

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News

Global

"Development of bioenergy must be carefully managed, and meeting social goals like sustainable rural development, poverty alleviation and food security should be guiding principles," said Alexander Mueller, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Assistant Director-General for Natural Resources Management and Environment.

With this challenge, the agency released the Bioenergy and Food Security Criteria and Indicators (BEFSCI) Project, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection. Among the products generated by the project are: web-based tool for assessing potential food security impacts of bioenergy projects; comprehensive list of methodologies and indicators to assess the impacts of bioenergy on food security at the national level; set of good environmental practices to minimize negative environmental impacts; and compilation of socio-economic practices currently being implemented by producers that provide examples of how bioenergy development can foster rural development and enhance food security.

"The paper looks at the pros, cons and appropriateness of these various instruments, so that governments who are just beginning to wrestle with these issues can learn from the experiences of others," explained Heiner Thofern, who heads up the BEFSCI project at FAO.

View the news at http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/123156/icode/

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The International Women's Day was celebrated on March 8, 2012, bearing the theme Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty. According to Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), this "battle cry" is relevant to the first and third Millennium Development Goals, which are about the eradication of severe hunger and poverty as well as the promotion of gender equality and empowerment. He also said that these goals cannot be achieved without giving attention to the world's biodiversity without which we would all be economically, socially, and culturally poorer.

Read the complete media release at http://www.cbd.int/doc/speech/2012/sp-2012-03-08-iwd-en.pdf.

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Two noted scientists of Carnegie Mellon University David Ehrhardt and Wolf Frommer published a Perspective in the journal The Plant Cell. The researchers discussed the important role of plants as the conduit of energy into the biosphere, providing food and materials used by humans and shaping the environment. With the onset of climate change, plants are closely affected in a variety of environmental concerns such as agricultural expansion, habitat destruction, and water pollution.

The authors suggested that in order to move plant research significantly forward, the most advanced technologies available should be used to study plant life. These include DNA sequencing, RNA cataloging, mass spectroscopy, fluorescence-based microscopy, and electron microscopy, among many others. A key focus is on the advances possible through advanced imaging technologies.

"We certainly expect that new technologies will continue to revolutionize biological research," they say. "Plant science has not often been the driver of innovation but often enough has profited from developments made in other areas."

The original news can be viewed at  http://carnegiescience.edu/news/future_plant_science_%E2%80%93_technology_perspective

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Alleviating malnutrition has been the focus of research and development projects by the HarvestPlus in poor developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Termed as hidden hunger, the lack of vitamins and minerals such as zinc and iron in the diet afflicts more than 2 billion people including women and children. To facilitate development of new varieties of staple food crops that can provide these essential nutrients, scientists have used X-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF) to analyze minerals in crops such as rice and pearl millet.

XRF is a technology used in mining to determine the mineral content of soil samples. In a study published in the journal Plant and Soil, evidences were presented comparing the conventional use of inductively coupled plasma (ICP)-based methods and the XRF. Result showed that there were few differences in the iron and zinc values in pearl millet and rice when the two technologies were compared.

"The XRF machines not only provide accurate results more quickly and cheaply, but they have also allowed us to build capacity of partner institutions that are working to breed mineral-rich crops," says James Stangoulis, co-author of the paper and long-time HarvestPlus collaborator. "We really see this as just the beginning for the role XRF technology can play in improving nutrition through the development of crops richer in nutrients."

The original news can be seen at http://www.harvestplus.org/content/scientists-adapt-mining-technology-breed-nutritious-food-crops

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Africa

A fund package amounting to US$ 63.24 million from the African Development Bank (ADB) will support a 5-year project on "Support to Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops in Africa" (SARD-SC). The project will be executed by Africa-based CGIAR Centers: the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Africa Rice Center, and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, with IITA serving as the Executive Agency.

The project will focus on research, science, and technology development initiative aimed at enhancing the productivity and income derived from cassava, maize, rice, and wheat – four strategic crops for Africa. It aims to enhance food and nutrition security and contribute to poverty reduction in the low income countries of Benin Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, DR Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. In addition, SARD-SC also hopes to contribute to crop-livestock integration based on the use of the commodities' by-products.

The news can be viewed at http://www.iita.org/news-frontpage-feature

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Farmers in Cameroon are now enjoying the increased harvests they obtained as a result of the Programme National de Development des Racines et Tubereules (PNDRT) supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). IFAD President Dr. Kanayo F. Nwanze in his recent visit to IITA, challenged the government of Cameroon and the private sector to continue to tap the country's land and agroecological resources, to leverage on the gains made and scale up the technologies to farmers.

According to Dr. Rachid Hanna, Country Representative for  IITA, "the project had helped researchers to develop and disseminate cassava varieties with multiple resistance and/or tolerance to pest and disease constraints and to disseminate natural enemies under the IITA-biological control program to tackle some of the pests."

In addition to yield increases, farmers were provided with technologies to develop new products from cassava and increase its value. To tackle the postharvest problem, the project also developed and deployed cassava chippers to farmers in 25 pilot villages in the main cassava producing zones of Cameroon.

See the story at http://www.iita.org/news-asset/-/asset_publisher/9MZf/content/cameroon-reaps-benefits-of-investments-in-agricultural-research-for-development?redirect=%2Fnews

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Americas

Developer of genetically modified soybean event DAS-68416-4, Dow AgroSciences Canada Inc. has applied for the crop's environmental release for livestock, feed and food use in Canada. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada (HC) announced that it received the submission. All the pertinent dossiers can be viewed at their website including the modification method, inheritance and stability of the introduced trait, description of the novel traits, toxicity and allergenicity of the novel gene products, nutritional evaluation of the event and evaluation of the environmental impact of the event.

See the announcement at http://www.inspection.gc.ca/plants/plants-with-novel-traits/notices-of-submission/das-68416-4-soybean/eng/1330749672287/1330750145805

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During the recently concluded 2012 Ag Issues Forum in North Carolina, scientists discussed the problem of herbicide resistant weeds becoming more widespread. According to the International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds, there are already 139 different types of resistant weeds in the United States.

In the discussion with noted experts Dr. Aaron Hager, Associate Professor of Weed Science at the University of Illinois and Dr. Larry Steckel, Associate Professor, Plant Science, a proactive approach was recommended that includes a rotation of pre-emergence herbicides being the best option.

Other strategies to solve the problem include the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) program that offer financial assistance to those farmers that had weed resistance pressures but maintained conservation stewardship. NRCS pays at least 75 percent of the costs of hiring technical assistance to develop conservation activity plans that outline weed management programs. Assistance is also available to offset some of the added costs or reduced income from managing weed resistance issues in order to preserve conservation practices on the farm.

Another approach is "The Respect the Rotation" program, initiated by Bayer CropScience in 2010, which has also offered solutions to weed resistance issues by encouraging the rotation of crops, traits and herbicides for a successful weed management program.

For more information, see http://www.bayercropscience.us/news/press-releases?storyId=ccc45135-4657-47c1-aa4e-4d86d897740e

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Washington State University's plant pathologist Dean Glawe has developed an Erysiphales Database to help farmers and gardeners worldwide in the control of powdery mildew. Erysiphales is the causal organism of powdery mildew, the world's most damaging disease of apples, cherries, grapes, hops, wheat, onions, strawberries, gourds, melons and many other economically important crops.

The database provides researchers and plant disease diagnosticians a tool to identify the 700 species of fungi, find information on their host plants, and provide links to online scientific references. The database is available at http://erysiphales.wsu.edu/. It has received recognition during the American Phytopathological Society meeting as a standard reference for authors working on powdery mildews.

The news can be viewed at http://cahnrsnews.wsu.edu/2012/03/06/wsu-plant-pathologists-on-line-powdery-mildew-database-selected-as-standard-reference-for-professionals/

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The Animal and Plant Health Inspection (APHIS) announced the changes in the solicitation of public comment when considering petitions for determinations on non-regulated status for genetically engineered organisms. With the new process, the agency will publish two separate notices in the Federal Register for petitions for which APHIS prepares an environmental assessment. The first notice will announce the availability of the petition, and the second notice will announce the availability of APHIS' decision-making documents. This change will provide two opportunities for public involvement in the decision-making process.

See the new guideline at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-03-06/pdf/2012-5364.pdf

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The Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at the University of Missouri-Colombia has released its crop yield and price projections for 2012. According to Pat Westhoff, director of FAPRI, "While net farm income may fall a little short of last year, we expect 2012 to be another good year for most producers," He added that, "with normal weather, a bigger crop in 2012 may lead to lower prices this fall," Westhoff said. "Other crop prices tend to follow corn."

The report also gave projections on ethanol production which remains to be at the 2011 to 2012 level after years of rapid growth; soybean prices for 2012 remain over $11 per bushel, after averaging an estimated $11.61 for 2011-12; and meats will show the highest inflation in 2012, as they did in 2011. Production costs grew at $36 billion, almost 12 percent, in 2011 due to price increases in feed, fertilizer, and fuel.

See the Report at http://www.fapri.missouri.edu/

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Asia and the Pacific

Scientists at CSIRO developed MAGIC or Multiple Advanced Generation Inter-Cross breeding technique to put together quantitative traits from various parents into one line. In CSIRO, the system was used initially to breed four Australian parent lines to develop new wheat varieties with superior baking quality, higher protein content, disease resistance, and increased milling yield.

Since the approach was successful, scientists experimented on using eight parents, comprised of three Australian lines and five from international sources. Progenies of the said breeding program are now growing in the fields of Western Australia and the eastern states in a five-year partnership breeding program with Murdoch University, the West Australian Department of Agriculture and Food and George Weston Foods with support from the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

According to Dr Bruce Lee, Director of CSIRO's Food Futures Flagship, "MAGIC has the potential to increase the speed and efficiency of breeding and this will have a direct impact on farm production."

See the news at http://www.sciencewa.net.au/topics/agriculture/item/1276-csiro-brings-out-the-magic-for-wheat#

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Dr. Mokhtar Jalali and Kimia Kashani from the University of Tarbiat Modares have successfully produced insulin in transgenic potato. Currently, 0.7% of people in Iran are suffering from diabetes. "Molecular farming which is the production of pharmaceutically important proteins and industrial enzymes in plants through genetic engineering, is the method of choice and more scientists are attracted to this technology than before. Plants have good, safe and economic potential for producing pharmaceutical components and potato is one of these bioreactors," said Kashani.

Their group was able to optimize a reproducible protocol for genetic engineering of potato cultivars Desiree, Marfona and Agria. Recently, the human pro-insulin gene has been transferred to potato using Agrobacterium-mediated transformation method. All molecular characterization of the transgenic plant confirmed the integration and high level expression of the human pro-insulin protein in transgenic potato.

See the news in Farsi at http://khabarfarsi.com/ext/2113695.

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Hanoi's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development issued policies to assist organizations and individuals in developing farming production with focus on building infrastructure, investing in processing plants and applying high technologies and scientific advances in 2012-2016. To implement these policies, the government has funded a project for five years with a total investment of VND 8,442 billion, including VND 3,502 billion for agriculture production and VND 4,830 billion for building fundamental infrastructure in 161 communes.

"These policies and funds are expected to make breakthroughs in the capital's agriculture in the future, as well as narrow the development gap between rural and urban areas" says Chairman of the Hanoi's People's Committee Nguyen The Thao.

See the news at  http://www.vir.com.vn/news/tech/hanoi-focuses-on-developing-high-tech-agriculture.html

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Professor M. Rafiqul Hoque, Vice Chancellor of the Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU), Mymensingh reiterated his full support to strengthen biotech human resource development as well as capacity building at the university level. He made this statement as Chief Guest in a seminar at BAU on March 7, 2012 entitled "Integrating GM crops with sustainable production systems".

Dr. Autar K. Mattoo, Senior Scientist, Agricultural Research Services (ARS), USDA explained the need for GM crops to complement conventional breeding. He explained the metabolic pathway of antioxidant, secondary and tertiary products with an emphasis on ripening and quality attributes of fruits and vegetables.

Dr. M. Abdul Khaliq Patwary, Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, BAU chaired the seminar which was attended by about 100 participants. He declared that the Faculty of Agriculture under his leadership would transform the Department of Biotechnology to an independent Institute of Biotechnology.

The seminar was organized by the Dept. of Biotechnology, BAU, Bangladesh Biotechnology Information Center (BdBIC), and Bangladesh Association for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (BABGE).

Email Dr. Khondoker Nasiruddin of the BdBIC at nasirbiotech@yahoo.com

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Europe

Centre for Plant Integrative Biology (CPIB) Professor Malcolm Bennet, an expert in root biology opined that "Root architecture critically influences nutrient and water uptake. A key impediment to genetic analysis of root architecture in crops grown in soil has been the ability to image live roots. Recent advances in micro CT and RooTrak software at Nottingham now make this possible."

Micro CT and RooTrak works by stacking virtual slices through the root-bearing soil. RooTrak treats each slice as a movie frame and static roots are treated as moving objects that can be tracked. Hence, the software can tell the difference between root and water or organic elements in the soil.

Thus, this technique offers a three-dimensional detailed and accurate root architecture. The software along with an innovative micro CT-based imaging approach is planned to image the roots of wheat, and choose new varieties with optimal water and nutrient uptake efficiencies.

See the news at  http://cordis.europa.eu/fetch?CALLER=EN_NEWS&ACTION=D&SESSION=&RCN=34377

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Giorgio Gambino and Ivana Gribaudo from Plant Virology Institute, National Research Council in Italy, released a review on the recent advances in genetic transformation of fruit trees. According to the review published in Transgenic Research, most of the GE work on fruit trees done to improve abiotic stress tolerance, to induce modifications of plant growth and habit, to produce marker-free GM plants and to enhance fruit quality. Decoding of genomic sequences and studies on functional genomics are also becoming increasingly important especially in uncovering regulatory mechanisms related to biosynthesis and catabolism of metabolites in plants.

Subscribers of Transgenic Research may get a copy of the review at http://www.springerlink.com/content/6070266575h12856/.

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Research

Ping-Li Dai and team from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science conducted a field trial to assess the impact of insecticidal protein exposure to honeybees (Apis mellifera ligustica). This study is an important step in the risk assessment process for biotech corn with cry1Ah, an insecticidal protein from Bacillus thuringiensis.

In the study, the honey bee colonies were moved to Bt or non-Bt corn fields during anthesis, the stage when the flowers are fully opened and functional. The survival, development, and behavior of the bees were recorded. The researchers did not find any difference between colonies from Bt fields and non-Bt fields, in terms of survival, bee body weight, hypopharyngeal gland weight, colony performance, foraging activity and olfactory learning abilities. Thus, they concluded that cry1Ah corn has no risk for honey bee particularly in the parameters measured.

Read the abstract at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0147651312000097.

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Scientists from the University of Edinburgh have reported new discoveries about the process that control plants' biological clocks and help them adjust to changing seasons, stimulating the blooming of flowers in spring.

The research team tested computer models of gene networks in Arabidopsis to determine the function of a protein labeled as TIMING OF CAB EXPRESSION1 (TOC1) in governing these daily cycles called circadian clock. The model shows how the 12 genes function together to run the plant's complex clockwork, and reset the clock at dawn and dusk each day. The team discovered through computational analysis that TOC1, which was previously linked with helping plants to "wake up", is in fact involved in dampening gene activity in the evening, helping them stay inactive at night.

Read the full paper at http://www.nature.com/msb/journal/v8/n1/full/msb20126.html.

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About 80 percent of terrestrial plants have symbiotic relationship with soil fungi. University of Zurich biologists discovered that a special transport protein is needed to start this symbiotic relationship. The findings of the researchers could help control the protein for plants to have better yield.

In the symbiotic relationship, the fungus provides the plant with water and important nutrients and elements, while the plant supplies carbohydrates needed by the fungus. This relationship is induced by low nutrient levels in plants. In such situations, the plant roots release a hormone called strigolactone, which is detected by the fungi. However, this hormone can also stimulate germination of root-parasitic weeds.

The research team studied the transport of strigolactones. They found out that a protein (PhPDR1) is responsible for the transport of the hormone. They also observed that PhPDR1 is highly expressed when there is low nutrient content to attract more fungi that could supply nutrients. However, for plants that do not form symbiotic relationships with the fungi, high expression of the protein activates transport of strigolactones again. The inhibition of the transporter protein will prevent germination of weeds that use up the host plants' resources.

Read the original articles at http://www.mediadesk.uzh.ch/articles/2012/petunie_en.html and http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature10873.html.

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Beyond Crop Biotech

Marijuana's major psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) was studied on its effects on neurons and other brain cells by a team of scientists from Canada, China, France, Spain and the United States. The team found that THC affects the neurons in easing pain in patients but at the same time carries a side-effect resulting to impaired memory. The side effect of the drug was observed on astrogalia, support cells of the neurons.

Astroglial cells support, protect and feed neurons, and recent evidence shows that these cells play a more active role in forging the connections from one neuron to another. The researchers believe that by separating these two parts of the drug would render marijuana to be beneficial for treating pain, seizures and other ailments without hurting memory. Understanding the mechanisms involved in the components of the plant could lead to future discoveries in treating neural disease such as Alzheimer's.

View the original article at http://cordis.europa.eu/fetch?CALLER=EN_NEWS&ACTION=D&SESSION=&RCN=34370.

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New findings in the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM) in France published in the journal Nature Immunology points to the protein SAMHD1 to affect the human pathogen HIV. The protein is present in white blood cells, a collective term for macrophages and dendritic cells that destroy pathogens in the human body.

The team found that the SAMHD1 protein deprives HIV-1 of deoxynucleoside triphosphates (dNTPs) required for virus deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) replication when it invades the white blood cells. In addition, the team discovered that viral protein X (Vpx) found in HIV-2 degrades the SAMHD1 protein, enabling the virus to colonize the macrophages. '

"The findings may explain why certain anti-HIV drugs used today are more effective under some circumstances and not others," says Professor Baek Kim of the University of Rochester Medical Center in the United States, one of the authors of the paper. 'It also provides new insights on how many other viruses that afflict people operate in the body.' Current research focus is on the effect of Vpx in the virulence of HIV-1 and -2.

The research news can be viewed at http://cordis.europa.eu/fetch?CALLER=EN_NEWS_FP7&ACTION=D&DOC=7&CAT=NEWS&QUERY=0135f10a9ba5:69ea:23c0745d&RCN=34356

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Scientists from Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in United Kingdom cracked the full genome of Kamila, a 35-year old gorilla in San Diego, California. The genome of the gorilla was compared with the genomes of other closest relatives of humans such as chimpanzees and orangutans.

The resulting data suggest that gorillas split from their common ancestor with humans and chimps about 10 million years ago, and that chimps and humans split from each other about 4 million years after that. This explains a lot about the evolutionary puzzle of the three types of great ape. "For a long time there was discordance between the fossil evidence and genetic estimates, in the sense that genetic estimates came up with speciation times that were more recent," says Aylwyn Scally, one of the researchers.

Read more of the story at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=gorilla-joins-the-genome-club.

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Announcements

The 31st UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific (APRC) will take place in Hanoi from March 12-16, 2012 according to the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD). The event will include 44 FAO member countries in the region and observers from UN organizations, donors and other development partners, as well as inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations, civil societies and business sectors. Discussions will focus on food security, rural poverty reduction, regional and global policies and legal issues concerning agriculture and the food situation in the Asia-Pacific, in addition to initiatives from the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) and other budget programmes.

See the event announcement at  http://english.vov.vn/Home/Hanoi-to-host-FAO-conference/20122/135239.vov

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Michigan State University is offering international short courses on the following topics: molecular plant breeding, agricultural biotechnology, environmental aspects of agricultural biotechnology, food safety, biofuels and bioenergy, and intellectual property rights.

For further information, contact Dr. Karim Maredia, course coordinator, at kmaredia@msu.edu.

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Document Reminders

Calestous Juma of the Harvard Kennedy School released a 17-page research working paper titled Technological Abundance for Global Agriculture: The Role of Biotechnology. According to the paper, developing countries would need to create more permissive regulatory regimes in order to catch up with the agricultural industry leaders. Such regulations would enable faster development in the research, development, and use of genetically modified crops.

Get a free copy of the report at http://scholar.google.com.ph/scholar_url?hl=tl&q=http://web.hks.harvard.edu/publications/getFile.aspx%3FId%3D767&sa=X&scisig=AAGBfm2eMXh3RTzkMSOGxkhoY72MoMZlpg&oi=scholaralrt